Redundancy Options in Azure Blob Storage

So you have data in Azure Blob Storage and are concerned about reliability.  Have no fear!  There are four replication options for redundancy:

1. Locally Redundant Storage (LRS): All data in the storage account is made highly durable and available within a facility/datacenter by replicating transactions synchronously to three different storage nodes within a single storage cluster (today those clusters are 20 racks withing the same building).  Each storage node is on a different fault and upgrade domain to ensure recovery from common failures (disk, node, rack) without impacting your storage account’s availability and durability.  All storage writes are performed synchronously across the three replicas in the three separate fault domains before success is returned back to the client. Note there is an option to have premium storage LRS which means the storage is SSD-based.  For internal details of Windows Azure Storage check out a whitepaper here, a video here, and the slides here.

2. Zone-Redundant Storage (ZRS): Zone-redundant storage (ZRS) stores three replicas of your data across two to three facilities.  It is designed to keep all three replicas within in a single region (but may span across two regions), providing higher durability than LRS (which replicates data only within the same facility).  Data is synchronously replicated when the multiple facilities are within a region; in the event that multiple regions are needed, three copies are synchronously stored within the region and data is asynchronously replicated to facilities in other regions.  If your storage account has ZRS enabled, then your data is durable even in the case of failure at one of the facilities.  ZRS is currently available only for block blobs.

3. Geo-Redundant Storage (GRS): Like LRS, transactions are replicated synchronously to three different storage nodes within the same primary region chosen for creating the storage account (there are 24 regions throughout the world, which each region made up of multiple datacenters).  However, transactions are also queued for asynchronous replication to another secondary region that is hundreds of miles away (usually 300 miles or more) from the primary (geo-replication).  In this secondary region the data is again made durable by replicating it to three more storage nodes there (i.e. total of 6 copies).  So even in the case of a complete regional outage or a regional disaster in which the primary location is not recoverable, your data is still durable.

4. Read-Access Geo-Redundant Storage (RA-GRS): This is the default option for redundancy when a storage account is created.  For a GRS storage account, there is the ability to turn on read-only access to a storage account’s data in the secondary region.  Since replication to the secondary region is done asynchronously, this provides an eventual consistent version of the data to be read from (if the primary goes offline there can be 5-15 minutes of data last written that are not yet available on the secondary).  When you enable read-only access to your secondary region, you get a secondary endpoint in addition to the primary endpoint for accessing your storage account.  This secondary endpoint is similar to the primary endpoint except for the suffix “-secondary”. For example: if the primary endpoint is myaccount.<service>.core.windows.net, the secondary endpoint is myaccount-secondary.<service>.core.windows.net.

When creating a storage account, you will be presented with the following storage account types:

StorageOptions

These options mean the data in your Microsoft Azure storage account is always replicated to ensure durability and high availability, meeting the Azure Storage SLA even in the face of transient hardware failures.

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For locally redundant storage, Microsoft stores CRCs of the data to ensure correctness and periodically reads and validates the CRCs to detect bit rot (random errors occurring on the disk media over a period of time).  If CRC fails, the data is recovered via an automated process.  And since each VM disk is a blob in Azure storage, if CRC fails on a disk it is automatically commissioned/decommissioned.

Some customers may choose Locally Redundant Storage for storage that does not require the additional durability of Geo Redundant Storage and want to benefit from the discounted price compared to GRS.  This data typically falls into the categories of (a) non-critical or temporary data (such as logs), or (b) data that can be recreated if it is ever lost from sources stored elsewhere.  An example of the latter is encoded media files that could be recreated from the golden bits stored in another Windows Azure Storage account that uses Geo Redundant Storage.  In addition, some companies have geographical restrictions about what countries their data can be stored in, and choosing Locally Redundant Storage ensures that the data is only stored in the location chosen for the storage account.

For remote storage (GRS and RA-GRS), in the event of a major disaster that affects the primary storage location, Microsoft will manually first try to restore the primary location.  Restoring of primary is given precedence since failing over to secondary may result in recent delta changes being lost because of the nature of replication being asynchronous, and not all applications may prefer failing over if the availability to the primary can be restored.  Dependent upon the nature of the disaster and its impacts, in some very rare occasions, Microsoft may not be able to restore the primary location, and they would need to perform a geo-failover.

When this happens, affected customers will be notified via their subscription contact information or via the Azure portal.  As part of the failover, the customer’s “account.service.core.windows.net” DNS entry would be updated to point from the primary location to the secondary location.  Once this DNS change is propagated, the existing Blob URIs will work.  This means that you do not need to change your application’s URIs – all existing URIs will work the same before and after a geo-failover.

After the failover occurs, the location that is accepting traffic is considered the new primary location for the storage account.  This location will remain as the primary location unless another geo-failover was to occur.  Once the new primary is up and accepting traffic, Microsoft will bootstrap to a new secondary to get the data geo redundant again.

More info:

Windows Azure Storage Redundancy Options and Read Access Geo Redundant Storage

Azure Storage replication

Azure Business Continuity Technical Guidance

About James Serra

James is a big data and data warehousing solution architect at Microsoft. Previously he was an independent consultant working as a Data Warehouse/Business Intelligence architect and developer. He is a prior SQL Server MVP with over 25 years of IT experience.
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2 Responses to Redundancy Options in Azure Blob Storage

  1. Pingback: HA/DR for Azure SQL Database - SQL Server - SQL Server - Toad World

  2. Greg Katz says:

    Very good explanation of the different replication techniques.